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SALT Founder John Horejsi Honored by Fairfax County

"For I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me." (Matthew 25: 35-37) A man who takes these words as a calling and puts his faith into action has been recognized not only by his peers in the Catholic Church but now by Fairfax County government. John Horejsi, founder of Social Action Linking Together (SALT), and a member of St. Mark's parish in Vienna, was named the Jubilee Year 2000 recipient of the Fairfax County Lord Fairfax Award earlier this month. He recently received the award in ceremonies before the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Hunter Mills District Supervisor Cathy Hudgins nominated Horejsi for the award. "John's countless hours of volunteer service to fight homelessness have greatly impacted the quality of life for those less fortunate in Fairfax County and the Commonwealth," said Hudgins in her nomination. "His commitment to social justice and willingness to serve on boards of numerous organizations where he can serve the needy have earned him the respect and admiration of his friends, family, and colleagues," she added. It truly can be said that Horejsi's efforts, along with those of 600 SALT advocates that he has commissioned since the group's founding in 1983, have had a vital impact on local, state, and national legislation that affects housing and other needed assistance for the poor and less fortunate. He is most known in Catholic parishes in the diocese for his work with the Homeless Intervention Program (HIP) beginning in 1995. It is a state-funded program that provides financial assistance and counseling to qualified homeowners or renters during difficult periods when they are otherwise unable to meet mortgage or rent payments. Horejsi conceived a parish-based letter writing campaign to encourage Virginia legislators to vote for expanding the then pilot HIP program into a statewide permanent support for the needy. SALT volunteers designed training materials and implemented a training conference for parish volunteers. The letter writing campaign was held in November and December and dubbed "Home for the Holidays." Ten parishes participated in the campaign. Parishioners sent a holiday message to their legislator encouraging support for expansion of HIP in the upcoming General Assembly session. More than 2200 letters were generated in the HIP campaign and Horejsi also was successful in gaining the support of 19 bipartisan Northern Virginia legislators to co-patron a HIP budget amendment. The result was overwhelming-HIP legislation passed unanimously in both the Virginia House of Delegates and the Virginia Senate and now HIP is a statewide and permanent program. But the program also needed funding. The SALT advocates and parish volunteers generated another 1100 letters to Governor Gilmore asking for implementation funding in the state budget. Initially, and every year since then, SALT has received its request for funding for the HIP program. More than 5000 families have been helped under the program. Now HIP is permanently funded at $5.5 million per year beginning with fiscal year 2001. During the 2000 General Assembly session this past January, Horejsi and his SALT advocates, set their goals even higher and were likewise successful. Here is what they accomplished: * An $11 million increase in funding for Continuum of Support Services for Homeless Families * Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) welfare reform benefits were boosted 10 percent, the first increase since 1985 * A Virginia Income Tax Credit (VITC) passed the General Assembly assuring working families below the poverty level no longer will have to pay Virginia income taxes, an initiative SALT has worked on for years. The Lord Fairfax Award is one of many Horejsi has received for his more than 20 years of service and advocacy. As a professional, he is a social worker for the Department of Health and Human Services, most recently working on welfare to work programs. But his advocacy for the poor in Virginia is more deeply rooted in his Catholic faith. "For me, advocacy gives personal witness to your faith by speaking on behalf of those who frequently are not heard at the policy-making level," he says. "Faith and action have to be linked. Through advocacy, legislators are made aware that there is a responsibility to the needs of God's special people," he explains. Poverty and homelessness remain a daunting social issue that continues to haunt the lives of too many Virginians, he believes. He seeks the assistance of others to help in this endeavor and urges individuals and parishes to become more involved in SALT efforts if they have not already done so. What is SALT? Social Action Linking Together is a network of people from Arlington, Fairfax, Alexandria, Loudoun, Prince William, and Stafford counties. It is parish-based and diocesan sponsored and seeks to bring social and economic justice teachings of the church to bear on public policy and legislation, particularly at the state and local levels. SALT is strictly non-partisan, focusing on issues, not candidates. What would you do as a SALT member? SALT is not time-consuming, says Horejsi. It involves being part of a network of people who receive an email or phone call asking them to respond to occasional requests to write a letter or phone a legislator or other government official such as the Governor. Usually these requests precede a critical policy vote. A parish coordinator can provide as much information on substantive issues as people request. Many parishes who are SALT members have conducted training programs for volunteers on how to write or speak to a legislator. "It is important to remember that the most effective advocacy messages are simple and personalized," stresses Horejsi. Horejsi and his wife Mariann are the parents of one daughter, Kristine. Both are active members of St. Mark Parish. If you would like to know more about SALT, visit the group's Website at www.CollectiveIQ.net/salt.htm Horejsi can also be reached through his E-mail address: jhorejsi@compuserve.com.

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2000